Any digital marketer worth her salt will tell you that if you want your brand to succeed in today’s market, you have to be creating content. Blog posts, e-books, whitepapers, infographics, podcasts…when it comes to content marketing, the options are many.
The point of creating all this content, of course, is to get it in the hands – or on the screens – of consumers, who will be much more likely to become your customers if you give them something great to read.
So if that’s what you’re trying to do, then what’s the whole idea behind gated content? Why would you ever erect a barrier between your potential customer and something they’re trying to access? After all, marketing is generally about removing barriers to purchase, isn’t it?
That’s certainly true, but in some cases, putting up a gate that consumers have to pass through to get to your content can work in your favor. The trick is knowing what content should be gated, and what kind of gate you should use.
What does “gated content” mean, anyway?
When it comes to content, the term “gate” can mean a couple of things.
It can mean a paywall, so that people who want to view your content, or particular pieces of your content, have to pay for access.
This is a popular model among journalistic organizations. The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Washington Post, and many other newspapers and magazines offer a certain number of free articles per reader per month, and then require you to become a paid subscriber to access any more than that.
Another option is to leave your content free to consume, but require readers to fill out a form before they can access it. A form like this typically captures contact information like your email address and name, plus maybe a line asking how you found the company. Companies of all kinds do this, although it’s more popular among B2B companies than B2C.
That, in a nutshell, is what gated content means.
To gate or not to gate: Pros and cons of gated content
One of the reasons that content marketers began gating content was because they needed to increase their lead generation. According to Contently, 85 percent of B2B content marketers say that their most important KPI is lead generation, so it’s not surprising that gated content has seen an upsurge in the past few years.
But how does gated content up your leads? It’s a question on which there are many opinions, but basically, asking people for their email address before they access something means you can get a lot more emails to add to your lists than you would without gating your content.
This is because general wisdom says that customers will be more likely to enter their email in order to get something they want immediately than to sign up for your email list of their own accord.
Often this is true. You’ve probably done it yourself: you need some research on a particular topic for one piece of content you’re creating, and you stumble across a report by another company. You click on it, and you get that form requesting your email address in order to download the report.
Even if you don’t foresee yourself ever needing anything from this company again, you enter your email address, get your report, and go on your merry way, never to think about that company again.
So here is where it can get tricky. That content marketer did get your email address, which means they have one more lead than they had before you downloaded the paper. If they’re one of the 85 percent of B2B content marketers for whom lead generation is the most important KPI, then they’ve met an important goal.
However, if this company is focused more on getting leads that are more likely to become purchasers, then – no offense – your email address might not be worth quite so much.
That’s one scenario. But here’s another one.
Let’s say you find a whitepaper on public safety software, which is a topic you’ve got a professional interest in.
You click on the link to download, and you see the email request form.
Like most people, you don’t like giving out your email address, but since you’re really interested in this whitepaper, you fill out the form. You get the report, and KOVA gets your email address.
In this case, they’ve just gotten themselves a high-quality lead – and through using the same tactic that the first company used, with a totally different result.
Hence the controversy over gated versus ungated content. You can see how the decision whether to implement gates or not is a complicated one. It’s difficult to know exactly how it’s going to work – who it will keep out, and who it will bring in.
It sounds like we need that ultimate decision-making tool: a pro and con list.
Pros of gated content
- Gated content lets you capture more email addresses, increasing your number of leads. In some cases, gating content can also increase the quality of your leads.
- Capturing readers’ email addresses give you more opportunities to give them what they want. You can send them strategic pieces of content based on the content they’ve already accessed on your site.
- You can better forecast the number of leads you’ll get per month, which is important for some businesses.
- Gating can give readers a sense that your content is premium, increasing the likelihood that they’ll give you their email address in order to access it.
Cons of gated content
- It can reduce the number of people who read your content. A certain percentage of people will leave your site when they see the email form pop up. You’ve therefore lost those potential leads.
- Gated content has little to no SEO value because gated content isn’t accessible to search engine bots. That means that the bots aren’t reading it, and therefore they aren’t indexing it in Google.
- Although you’ll be getting a greater number of leads, in some cases, the leads you get may be poorer quality.
So what’s a content marketer to do?
Instead of asking whether or not you should gate your content, you should be asking when you should gate your content. To determine this, you need to look at:
- Your business’s goals
- Your goals for each piece of content
Gating can work to attract more, higher-quality leads for one sort of content, while it can drive away leads when it’s used on another.
In general, things like blog posts, infographics, and slideshares are best left ungated – after all, these are things you create in order to get more eyes on your content, improve your SEO, and increase your brand awareness. Gating these things can make your business seem like it’s only out to chase leads, and that’s only going to drive potential customers away.
Reports, white papers, webinars, and other things that require lots of time and effort to create often do well when they’re gated. Very few people are going to sit through an entire webinar purely on a whim, so if they’ve found it, they’re likely willing to offer up their email address for access.
One great way to use your gated and ungated content to complement each other is to offer pieces of ungated content that lead readers to gated content.
For example, if you’ve just completed an extensive report on the state of your industry, you could write a blog post that gives highlights from the report and includes a call-to-action for readers to download the full report. The full report would be gated; the blog post, of course, would not.
Both gated and ungated content have important roles to play in your B2B content marketing. For more on making your B2B content shine, read our post “How to Write Crazy Successful B2B Marketing Content.”